NASA has just signed two very large cheques for two private spaceflight companies, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corporation. The contracts will allow private launches to re-supply the International Space Station beyond Shuttle decommissioning in 2010, and SpaceX claims they could be doing it by next year.
These contracts represent some of the largest ever given to private enterprise, and demonstrates the trust the US space agency is placing in these space start-ups. The contracts are worth $3.5 billion combined; $1.9 billion for Orbital Sciences and $1.6 billion for SpaceX, equating to 8 flights from Orbital and 12 flights from SpaceX. For now, these contracts are for cargo deliveries only, replacing the Shuttle and providing a viable alternative to the Russian Progress flights. Critically, the US now has a very real prospect to bridge the “5-year gap” from Shuttle retirement (2010) and Constellation launch (2015).
All we need now is for SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Falcon 9 rocket system to become “human rated” and we could see the first routine commercial launches of US astronauts before the Constellation Program is even rolled out onto the launchpad. Very exciting times…
In my second assignment for Space Lifestyle Magazine, I was sent to the plush Beverly Hilton (in Beverly Hills, CA) to sit in on a grand announcement by XCOR Aerospace. Having seen the operations behind another space commercialization company (SpaceX) I was keen to see how the two companies differed. Firstly, comparing XCOR with SpaceX would be like comparing apples with pears; they belong to the same family (i.e. fruit), but they taste entirely different.
For starters, SpaceX is focused on launching payloads into orbit. XCOR is a space tourism venture (with it’s closest competitor being Virgin Galactic). They do however, have some common ground: both build their own rockets and both have a very enthusiastic outlook for this emerging industry.
The Fall Edition of Space Lifestyle Magazine has just been issued. For my first article in the electronic magazine, I took a trip to the Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) headquarters in Hawthorn, near LA to have a tour around the site. With a special thanks to Diane Murphy, SpaceX Vice-President of Marketing and Communications, I fulfilled every space geek’s dream to see Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets being built, plus being within touching distance of the Dragon module (to undergo space tests in 2009). For me, the most significant moment was to see one of SpaceX’s complete Merlin-1C engines sitting on the rocket workshop floor, an amazing piece of engineering.
In this quarter’s edition of SLM, my Universe Today colleague Nancy Atkinson (Editor-in-Chief of the magazine), takes an in-depth look into the space policies of both Presidential Candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain (although we now know how that turned out!), and my SLM co-writer Katie Kline gives a rundown of what’s new and exciting in the world of space travel. It is an inspiring magazine with lots more articles and columns throughout its 70 pages…